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icon Trailbuilding Glossary - J-Z

This list of 265 terms is extracted from 900-term list from the Trails and Greenways Clearinghouse website of the Rails to Trails Conservancy. The original list is from Trails Primer: A Glossary of Trail, Greenway, and Outdoor Recreation Terms and Acronyms, 2001, Jim Schmid, editor, South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, Columbia, SC. Last updated January 2002.

Glossary: A-I    J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Kiosk (Sign): A freestanding bulletin board consisting of three to five sides housing informational or interpretive displays.
Knob: Prominent rounded hill or mountain.
Landslide: Dislodged rock or earth that has slipped downhill under the influence of gravity and obstructs passage on a trail.
Leave No Trace (LNT): Educational program designed to instill behaviors in the outdoors that leave minimum impact of human activities or occupation (
Logged Out Tree: Down tree across the trail with sections already removed to permit passage.
Loppers (Pruning Shears): A long-handled tool with two opposing blades (by-pass or anvil) used for cutting heavy vegetation (limbs of 1 to 13/4 inches in diameter).
Machete: A large knife used to clear succulent vegetation.
Maintenance: Work that is carried out to keep a trail in its originally constructed serviceable condition. Usually limited to minor repair or improvements that do not significantly change the trail location, width, surface, or structures.
Maintenance (Annual): Involves four tasks done annually or more often as needed: cleaning drainage, clearing blowdowns, brushing, and marking.
Mattock: A sturdy two-bladed tool with an adz blade that can be used as a hoe for digging in hard ground. The other blade may be a pick (pick mattock) for breaking or prying small rock or a cutting edge (cutter mattock) for chopping roots.
Maximum Pitch: The highest percent of grade on a trail.
Maximum Sustained Pitch: The highest percent of grade on a trail that is sustained for a significant distance.
McLeod: A forest fire tool that looks like an over-sized hoe with tines on the opposite blade. In trail work it is used to remove slough and berm from a trail and to smooth the tread.
Meadow: Tract of grassland.
Measuring Wheel (Cyclometer): A device that records the revolutions of a wheel and hence the distance traveled by the wheel on a trail or land surface.
National Recreation Trail: Existing local trails (over 800) recognized by the federal government as contributing to the National Trails System.
National Scenic Trail: Federally designated extended trails, which provide for the maximum outdoor recreation potential and for the conservation and enjoyment of the significant qualities of the areas through which they pass. The Appalachian and the Pacific Crest trails were the first to be designated as National Scenic Trails in 1968.
Nylon Strap: Heavy duty woven strap of wide nylon with eyes sewn in both ends. May be set basket style or choker style. Used mainly as anchor ties for a Griphoist or block attached to live trees, as their wider load-bearing surface does less bark damage and eliminates the need for the use of shims.
Out-and-Back Trail: A one way trail on which you travel to a destination then backtrack to the trailhead.
Outcrop: A rock formation that protrudes through the level of the surrounding soil.
Outslope (Outsloping): A method of tread grading that leaves the outside edge of a hillside trail lower than the inside to shed water. The outslope should be barely noticeable-usually no more than about one inch of outslope for every 18 inches of tread width.
Pass: Narrow low spot between mountain peaks; lowest point along a mountain crest. Pass is generally used in the West, while "gap" is used in the South, and "notch" in New England.
Peak: The pointed summit of a mountain.
Peak-Bagging: Reaching the tops of as many peaks as possible and keeping a record of the accomplishment.
Permit (System): Use-authorization forms issues by agencies to control the amount of use along trails or in wilderness areas. Permits may be obtained from the agency office, by mail, over the phone, or in person, or they may be self-issued; self-issued permits are usually obtained at the trailhead or immediately outside agency offices. They can be used to increase visitor knowledge about regulations, recommended low-impact behaviors, and potential hazards.
Pick (Pick-ax, Pick-axe): A tool with a 36-inch handle and a head that has a point at one end and a chisel-like edge at the other. Used to loosen soil or rock.
Pier: Intermediate bridge supports located between two adjacent bridge spans.
Pile (Piling): A long, heavy timber, pipe, or section of concrete or metal to be driven or jetted into the earth or streambed to serve as a support for a bridge.
Pitch: An increase in the prevailing grade of a trail, used during construction to avoid an obstacle, to catch up with the intended grade, or to meet a control point.
Planimetric map: A map that shows features such as roads, trails, and mountains, but does not show contour lines of elevation changes.
Pole Saw (Tree Pruner): A pruning saw with a telescoping handle to trim branches that would otherwise be out of arm's reach. Some models have built-in loppers that can be operated from the ground with a rope.
Pruning: The removal of normal vegetative growth that intrudes beyond the defined trail clearing limits.
Pulaski: During the early 1900s US Forest Service Ranger Edward Pulaski of Idaho needed a good tool for grubbing and chopping fire lines, so he welded the blade of a pick to the back of an ax head and created what has come to be known as the "Pulaski." The modern Pulaski combines an axe bit with an adz-shaped grub hoe and is a very popular tool among trail builders.
Puncheon (Bog Bridge): A log or timber structure built on the ground for the purpose of crossing a boggy area. Usually consists of sills, stringers, decking, and often a soil or loose gravel tread laid on top of the decking.
Quadrangle: A tract of land represented by one US Geological Survey map sheet.
Ravine: Deep, narrow gouge in the earth's surface, usually eroded by the flow of water.
Read(ing): To study the terrain and obstacles to determine a course or possible locations for a trail through the area.
Rebar: Steel reinforcing rod that comes in a variety of diameters, useful for manufacturing pins or other trail anchors.
Reconnaissance (Recon): Scouting out alternative trail locations prior to the final trail route location being selected.
Register, Trail: Along long-distance trails you may find "trail registers" at overnight stops that allow users the chance to make comments to those behind them, and read comments from those ahead. Registers can be an important safety measure to pinpoint the location of trail users.
Registration, Trail: A voluntary survey form filled out and left at a trailhead drop box or office that allows managers to obtain use characteristics.
Rehabilitation (Rehab): All work to bring an existing trail up to its classification standard, including necessary relocation of minor portions of the trail.
Relocation (Relo, Realignment, Reroute): To alter the path of an existing trail to better follow land contours, avoid drainage sites, bypass environmentally sensitive areas, improve views, or for other landowner or management reasons.
Restoration: The process of repairing or returning damaged areas back to their original state.
Restore: To bring back to a former, normal, or productive condition by repairing or rebuilding.
Retaining Wall (Revetment, Cribwall, Cribbing): Structure used at a grade change to hold the soil on the up-hill side from slumping, sliding, or falling; usually made of log or stone. Also used to provide stability and strength to the edge of a trail.
Ridge: A hill that is proportionally longer than it is wide, generally with steeply sloping sides.
Ridgeline: A line connecting the highest points along a ridge and separating drainage basins or small-scale drainage systems from one another.
Rigging, Cable: Cable works and hoists used to lift and move large, heavy rocks or logs.
Rill: A steep-sided small channel resulting from accelerated erosion; the most common form of erosion.
Riparian: A habitat that is strongly influenced by water and that occurs adjacent to streams, shorelines, and wetlands.
Rock Bar (Pry Bar): A four-foot bar of steel weighing 16 to 18 pounds with a beveled end used to move rocks.
Root: The part of a plant/tree, usually underground, that anchors the plant/tree. Can be a hazard to trail users when they protrude through the tread surface.
Root Ball (Root Wad): Earth and soil that is lifted up when a tree and its roots fall over.
Rut: Sunken groove in the tread, perpendicular to the direction of travel, and less than two feet in depth.
Saddle: Ridge between two peaks.
Saw: Cutting tool that comes in a variety of styles used for cutting limbs, branches, trees, or lumber.
Scree: Gravel-size loose rock debris, especially on a steep slope or at the base of a cliff, formed as a result of disintegration largely by weathering.
Sediment: Soil particles that have been transported away from their natural location by wind or water action.
Seep (Seepage): An area where water slowly passes out of the ground to the surface; groundwater emerging on the trail tread or bank.
Sheath: Protective covering made of leather or plastic used to cover sharp blades of tools while in storage or when the tools are transported.
Shovel: A tool with a broad scoop and a long handle for lifting and moving loose material.
Shrub: A woody plant that usually remains low and produces shoots or trunks from the base; it is not usually tree-like or single stemmed.
Shuttle: Leaving a vehicle at both ends of a point-to-point trip or pre-arranging a shuttle to pick you up at the end of the trip or to drop you off at the beginning.
Side Trails: Dead-end trails that access features near the main trail.
Sidehill: Where the trail angles across the face of a slope. The tread is often cut into the slope.
Sidehilling: Process of excavating or cutting a bench across the slope.
Sideslope: The natural slope of the ground measured at right angles to the centerline of the trail, or the adjacent slope, which is created after excavating a sloping ground surface for a trailway, often termed a cut-and-fill-slope, left and right of the trail tread.
Single-Jack Hammer: A short handled hammer with a 3- to 4-pound head. Can be used alone to drive timber spikes, or with a star drill to punch holes in rock.
Single-Track Trail: A trail only wide enough for one user to travel. Requires one user to yield the trail to allow another user to pass.
Sledgehammer: A long handled heavy hammer with a 6- to 8-pound head, usually held with both hands.
Slide: Material that has slid onto the trail tread from the backslope-possibly in quantities sufficient to block the trail.
Slip: The downslope movement of a mass of soil under wet or saturated conditions; a micro-landslide that produces microrelief in soils.
Slope: Rising or falling natural (or created) incline of the ground. The term is generally used to refer to the hill and not the trail.
Soft Surface Trail: An unsurfaced natural trail or a trail surfaced with compacted earth, crusher fines, bark, or gravel.
Soil(s): The surface material (mineral materials, organic matter, water, and air) of the continents, produced by disintegration of rocks, plants, and animals and the biological action of bacteria, earthworms, and other decomposers. The four fundamental groups of soils are: gravels, sands, loams, and clays.
Spur Trail: A trail that leads from primary, secondary, or spine trails to points of user interests-overlooks, campsites, etc.
Staging Area: An area where users can congregate, park, and begin or end a trip. Designed and managed for day use, whereas a trailhead usually caters to those embarking on an overnight or long-distance trip.
Star Drill: A foot-long tool, weighing about a pound, used with a single-jack hammer to punch holes in rock or open a seam/crack.
Step: Structure (stone or wood) that provides a stable vertical rise on the trail, usually in sets.
Stepping Stones: Large rocks (preferably greater than two hundred pounds) set in boggy areas or shallow stream crossings to provide passage for hikers.
Stob (Stub): Projecting (and hazardous) piece of a branch, root, or sapling not cut flush with the trunk or ground.
Structure: Anything constructed or erected that requires location on the ground such as a bridge, wall, steps, etc. on or near a trail.
Substrate: Underlying layer of loose/soft material below topsoil and overlying bedrock.
Suitable Material: Rock that can be accommodated in the trail structure, and soil free of duff with a recognizable granular texture.
Summit: The highest point (top) of a mountain.
Surfacing: Material placed on top of the trailbed or base course that provides the desired tread. It lessens compaction of soil, provides a dry surface for users, and prevents potential erosion and abrasion.
Survey, Trail: A physical field assessment of the trail or proposed trail, to determine alignment, maintenance tasks, hazards, impact, etc., prior to work, or as part of ongoing trail maintenance.
Swale: A linear low-lying natural topographic drainage feature running downhill and crossing the trail alignment in which sheet runoff would collect and form a temporary watercourse. A low-lying ground drainage structure (resembling a swale) can be constructed to enhance drainage across the trail.
Swamp: An area of wet, spongy land; bog, marsh.
Swedish Safety Brush Axe (also known as a Sandvik): A machete-like tool with a protected short, replaceable blade and a 28-inch handle used to cut through springy hardwood stems.
Switchback: A sharp turn in a trail (usually constructed on a slope of more than 15%) to reverse the direction of travel and to gain elevation. The landing is the turning portion of the switchback. The approaches are the trail sections upgrade and downgrade from the landing.
Sylvan: Of, found, or living in the woods or forest.
Tailings: The dump at a mineral processing plant; material remaining after metal is extracted from ore.
Talus: Large rock debris on a slope. The rocks are larger and have sharper edges than those found on scree slopes.
Terminus: Either the beginning or end of a trail.
Tie Log: Structural member notched into the horizontal facer and wing walls used to secure the facer and wings by utilizing the mass of the backfill.
Topo (USGS Topographic, Contour) Map: Maps published by the United States Geological Survey, indicating built and natural features (buildings, roads, ravines, rivers, etc.) as well as elevation changes and land cover. Available from many government offices, outdoor shops, and map stores; or from digitized versions on the Internet.
Topography: The elevation and slope of the land as it exists or is proposed. It is represented on drawings by lines connecting points at the same elevation. Typically illustrated by dashed lines for existing topography and solid lines for proposed.
Trail: Route on land or water with protected status and public access for recreation or transportation purposes such as walking, jogging, motorcycling, hiking, bicycling, ATVing, horseback riding, mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking, and backpacking.
Trail, Linear: Trails that start and return exactly along the same route and have a beginning and an end.
Trail, Long Distance: In general a trail best characterized by length (more than 50 miles), linearity (follows a linear feature), and diversity (geographic and political).
Trail, Loop(ed): Trail or trail systems designed so that the routes form loops, giving users the option of not traveling the same section of trail more than once on a trip.
Trail System(s): A collection of individual trails that may or may not be connected to one another, whereby each retains its distinctiveness, and yet belongs to the system by association with a federal, state, local, or bioregional context.
Trailbed: The finished surface on which base course or surfacing may be constructed. For trails without surfacing, the trailbed is the tread.
Trailhead: An access point to a trail or trail system often accompanied by various public facilities, such as a horse or OHV unloading dock or chute, parking areas, toilets, water, directional and informational signs, and a trail use register. Designed and managed for those embarking on an overnight or long-distance trip, whereas a staging area caters to trail day use.
Trailway: The portion of the trail within the limits of the excavation and embankment.
Traverse: To cross a slope horizontally going gradually up and across in lieu of the more direct up and over approach.
Tread (Treadway): The actual surface portion of a trail upon which users travel excluding backslope, ditch, and shoulder. Common tread surfaces are native material, gravel, soil cement, asphalt, concrete, or shredded recycled tires.
Tread Creep: When the loose soil of the trail tread moves (sags or slides) down the side of the hill because of erosion or use.
Tread Lightly!: Educational program designed to instill outdoor ethics of responsible behavior when participating in outdoor activities (
Tree Line (Timber Line): The farthest limit, either in altitude on a mountain, or the farthest north in the northern hemisphere, in which trees are able to grow. Beyond this line, the environment is too harsh for trees to survive.
Trestle: Mid-span support for a bridge.
Triangulation: System of equating compass and maps to a known landmark.
Tributary: A river or stream feeding into a larger waterway or lake.
Trio Maintenance: Three-step function of removing slough, berm, and brush. Also called fire line trail maintenance.
Undulating Trail: One that follows a wavelike course, often going in and out of gullies.
Unravel: To lose material from the edges of a retaining wall (revetment, cribbing).
Volunteer: Person who works on a trail or for a trail club without pay.
Wash: Removal or erosion of soil by the action of moving water. A natural watercourse, wet or dry.
Water Course: Any natural or built channel through which water naturally flows or will collect and flow during spring runoff, rainstorms, etc.
Waterbar: A drainage structure (for turning water) composed of an outsloped segment of tread leading to a barrier placed at a 45 angle to the trail; usually made of logs, stones, or rubber belting material. Water flowing down the trail will be diverted by the outslope or, as a last resort, by the barrier. Grade dips are preferred on multi-use trails instead of waterbars.
Weathering: The physical and chemical disintegration and decomposition of rocks and minerals.
Weed Cutters (Weed Whip, Swizzle Stick, Swing Blade): Tool with a serrated blade at the end of a wooden handle, used to clear trail corridors of succulent vegetation.
Weephole: Opening left in a retaining wall (revetment, cribbing) to allow groundwater drainage.
Wetland(s): A lowland area, such as a marsh or swamp, which is saturated with water, creating a unique, naturally occurring habitat for plants and wildlife.
Wheel Guard: Narrow logs, poles, or lumber installed along the edges of bridge or puncheon decking designed to help keep wheeled equipment (wheelchair, bicycle, OHV) from running off the edge of the structure.
Wheelbarrow: A shallow open box with a wheel in front and two handles in the rear; used for moving small loads.
Wilderness: Undeveloped land and associated water resources retaining their primeval character and influence.
Wilderness Act of 1964 (16 U.S.C. 1131-1136): Act of Congress that established federal Wilderness Areas. As defined, Wilderness Areas are undeveloped federal lands without permanent improvements or human habitation that are protected and managed so as to preserve natural conditions. The Act prohibits the use of mechanized vehicles and construction in Wilderness Areas.
Wilderness Area: Uninhabited and undeveloped federal land to which Congress has granted special status and protection under authority of the Wilderness Act of 1964. Allows foot and horse traffic only; no mountain bikes, OHV use, hang gliders, or other "machines."
Wildland(s): Ecologically healthy lands that are in their original natural state.
Wildlife: Any non-domesticated animal species living in its natural habitat.
Winch: Applicable to a broad array of devices that use a drum, driven by a handle and gears, around which a cable is wound, to provide mechanical advantage for moving heavy objects.

Glossary: A-I

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